Smart bulbs made me forget how to use light switches

One of the joys of fully kitting out my house with smart home gadgets is that I am routinely reminded that I am by far the dumbest thing in my home, and that includes my pet ferret who stashes gold Ferrero Roche wrappers, thinking they are some kind of precious material.

The fear that my smart home is making me dumber started not long after I had filled every light and lamp in my house with smart lightbulbs. I’ve used a combination of Philips Hue lightbulbs and Hive Active Lights. Both sets are great, though my preference lies slightly with (the more expensive) Hue system, as it has a more pleasant app that allows you to create ‘scenes’ for easily changing the color and brightness of a number of lights at once.

The process has been a joy. The living room has Hue bulbs that change color and brightness depending on what I am doing. If I press ‘Watch a Movie’ on my Logitech Harmony Ultimate remote control (when you have a house filled with devices a universal remote control is essential, and the Harmony range is awesome), my TV, AV receiver and Blu-ray player turn on, and the Hue lights dim.

In the bathroom we have a Hive Active Light that my wife has set to blue. She was hoping to give the room an aquatic ambience, but I think it makes the place feel like a public toilet that’s trying to stop junkies shooting up in it. We had an ‘enthusiastic’ debate about changing the color of the bulb. The bulb remains blue.

However, what I love most about these smart bulbs is that they can be controlled by Amazon Echo, which means I can now yell at Alexa to turn off a light that’s been left on in another room. It makes me feel like a bit of a wizard, especially if I’m wearing my fake Gandalf beard.

Everyone has one of those, right?

Let there be light

So far, so good, but I was quickly brought back to Earth when staying at a relative’s house recently. Upon entering a pitch black room, my first response was to bark in a loud voice “Alexa” before remembering where I was. The shame of it. It took a good few seconds for me to remember what you’re supposed to do when Alexa isn’t there to do your bidding.

This relative – who shall remain unidentified – has the temerity to not fill their home with smart light bulbs, no matter how many smart light Christmas/Mother’s Day presents I’ve got her… I mean them.

This left me scrabbling around a dark room searching for a light switch like some sort of caveman, if cavemen had nice houses and electric lights.

Thankfully, it’s not just me that feels dumb thanks to my smart home. Guests who stay over are frequently perplexed by our smart light setup, not helped by the fact that I’ve replaced our traditional light switches with Philips Hue Tap devices. These turn on and off the smart light bulbs (as well as change the Hue 'scenes') while cunningly looking nothing like a light switch.

This is obviously a light switch. Obviously.

This is obviously a light switch. Obviously.

This has meant I’m seriously considering filming an instructional video to play for any guests who stay over, telling them how to switch off the lights, as well as what to do if you disturb a pile of Ferrero Roche wrappers.

Until that comprehensive guide to living in our smart home has been compiled, guests are left to either sleeping with the lights on, or – even worse – unplugging the various lamps from the power sockets, or just physically turning them off using the old switches.

Why’s this worse? Because the next day when I find the lamps no longer turn on, I spend a good while fruitlessly troubleshooting the lamps by restarting my router, or resetting the smart bulb hub, or howling at the dispassionate goddess of the smart home, crying “why won’t my lamps turn on? Why have you forsaken me Alexa?”, before remembering to check the plug sockets, or physically flick the switch, whereupon I finally bring light once more into my home, like a rubbish Apollo.

My house feels like it’s getting smarter, but I’m just getting dumber.

  • Matt Hanson is trying to make his home smarter, and his life easier. But that doesn't always happen. Follow his trials and tribulations in his iDIY column.
Matt Hanson
Managing Editor, Core Tech

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.